Some varieties, like Cortland, Rome, Empire and Granny Smith I’ve been familiar with all my life. Some, like Ginger Gold, Honeycrisp and Pink Lady I’m just seeing for the first time. The only two apples I was certain I didn’t want to use were Red Delicious, which is definitely not a cooking apple and McIntosh, which disintegrates when cooked allowing for a great applesauce.
After being filled the ramekins were covered with parchment paper, then aluminum foil and slit in a few places to let the steam escape while baking. As each batch cooked my husband and I eagerly awaited the results. My husband because he loved the never ending supply of pie filling for dessert while for me it was a more detached scientific curiosity to see and taste the results. Since only four apple varieties were cooked at a time I had to keep a notebook recording our impressions to keep track of the increasing number of apples that were being compared. The first category judged was smell, because that was our first impression when the cover was removed, then appearance which included shape, color, volume and amount of liquid produced and its consistency. Finally and probably most important was taste and texture.
As a laboratory scientist I loved the feeling of having done all the experiments and writing up both methods and results to test and prove my hypothesis. That hypothesis being – there must be a perfect apple variety for a perfect apple pie. Surprisingly I didn’t find one apple that was perfect but quite a few. But before I could figure out exactly how to tailor the remaining ingredients to accommodate each apple variety I came across directions for preparing caramelized apples in a recipe for apple cake. It was a Eureka moment for me. Of course, why not cook the apples first and then put them in a pie crust to bake? We often ‘blind’ bake a pie crust before adding the filling for certain pies so why not do it the other way around for this particular pie? The very core of science teaches us to look with a skeptical eye at the accepted norm and challenge it.
Such an approach would solve a myriad of problems I’d had with the apple pie filling. Firstly, caramelizing the apple slices would greatly enhance their flavor. Secondly, I could make sure the filling was cooked until the texture was perfect. Then I could adjust the amount of sugar or lemon juice so that the balance between sweet and tart was just right. And finally I could make sure the liquid was either cooked down or thickened sufficiently.
With the protocol now set in place it was back out to the east end where I bought several pounds of a number of different apple varieties including Idared, Jonagold, Rome and Golden Delicious. They were all caramelized separately and put into the refrigerator so they would be at the same temperature as the pie pastry when I put the pie in the oven. This also insured that the apple filling did not continue to cook as the pie crust was baking. I made several large apple pies over the next few weeks. Each one was filled with one of the caramelized apple varieties and baked at425Fonly until the pastry was golden brown.
My husband and I made a valiant effort to eat as much of each pie as we could. But it became necessary to enlist other family, friends and neighbors to help us finish them all. Each pie was perfect although each was unique to its own particular variety of apple. As the saying goes it turned out to be a walk in the park to make a perfect apple pie this way. You might even say it was a lead-pipe cinch or a piece of cake. But to be absolutely precise it was as easy as apple pie.
The above non-fiction essay is an original work by Laura Praissman who grants you permission to publish it.
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